Baltimore Sun crime reporter Justin Fenton reports on an ATF agent in California, who is a former Baltimore cop and once worked with the ringleader of the Gun Trace Task Force. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
A former Baltimore police officer has admitted to the FBI that he stole money, lied in police reports and improperly used electronic surveillance devices, federal prosecutors in California said — widening the scope of police misconduct unearthed by the Gun Trace Task Force scandal.
Former Det. Matthew Ryckman resigned from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Sacramento this fall after admitting the misconduct in an interview with the FBI, according to a Nov. 16 letter sent by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in California to local defense attorneys that was obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
Ryckman has not been charged with any crimes in California or Maryland, and declined to comment this week.
“Matthew Ryckman is a subject of a serious public corruption investigation related to wrongdoing by members of a municipal police department on the East Coast, including the time between 2013 and 2015, while Mr. Ryckman was employed as a police officer with that department,” reads the letter signed by Timothy Delgado, an assistant U.S. attorney based in Sacramento.
Ryckman was not part of the city’s corrupt Gun Trace Task Force, but worked from 2013 to 2014 in a plainclothes squad with Sgt. Wayne Jenkins, the eventual leader of the gun unit. Jenkins has admitted to a staggering array of crimes, including robberies and drug dealing, and is serving 25 years in federal prison after pleading guilty last year.
In total, eight city officers were convicted of racketeering in the Gun Trace Task Force scandal, and authorities have said they are continuing to investigate. Several cooperating officers testified at trial earlier this year that they had stolen money for years before joining the unit.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office could not be reached for comment about what local authorities were doing with the information about Ryckman. The Baltimore Police Department declined to comment on whether it was aware of the allegations or investigating them.
A commission appointed by leaders of the state legislature and Gov. Larry Hogan is investigating the Gun Trace Task Force scandal in an attempt to understand the scope and circumstances that led up to it. Baltimore state Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation, said the new revelation underscores the commission’s charge.
“I’d say it confirms the worst nightmares of this entire situation, … that it was more widespread than anyone could dream possible,” Ferguson said.
The Maryland Public Defender’s Office in Baltimore said the revelation showed how much more remains to be done to get to the bottom of the Gun Trace Task Force scandal and misconduct in the police department. Officials there say city prosecutors have worked too slowly to overturn convictions connected to the tainted cases — a “couple hundred” of more than 2,000 possible cases — and officers with troubled histories continue to work the streets.
“Any notion that the BPD has fully rid themselves of wrongdoers with the GTTF indictments is complete fiction,” said Deborah Katz Levi, of the Baltimore public defender’s office. “Matthew Ryckman was not involved in the GTTF and he has confessed to carrying out the same type of heinous crimes. … As advocates for justice, we demand systemic action by the other entities responsible for police oversight and accountability, most notably the state’s attorney, the judiciary and the legislature.”
After The Sun’s article was published online, the public defender’s office called for a judicial task force to undo convictions involving corrupt officers “at a more expeditious rate,” and for the state legislature and city council to repeal secrecy surrounding officer discipline that is provided by the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.
The Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office declined to address the allegations against Ryckman and the criticisms of the public defender’s office, saying only that they generally “undertake the appropriate steps to begin to review” cases when accusations of misconduct are brought to their attention. They did not say whether they had been made aware of Ryckman’s admission.
State court records show Ryckman was involved as an arresting officer in more than 300 cases that went to Circuit Court.
Federal prosecutors have reopened two cases involving Ryckman that occurred in the 2013-to-2014 time period; before he left Baltimore in 2016, Ryckman was representing the city police on a Drug Enforcement Administration task force.
Derek Hines, an assistant U.S. attorney involved in the Gun Trace Task Force prosecution, recently reactivated two federal cases in Maryland in which Ryckman was one of the arresting officers. One of those cases has a hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon; records show the defendant in the case, Enzo Blanks, is no longer in custody.
The Sun reported last month that a major gun case brought by Ryckman in California had been abruptly dropped within days of being filed, and that Ryckman had left the ATF under unclear circumstances.
In the letter from California prosecutors, they say they are unaware of misconduct by Ryckman related to his work as an ATF agent in California. They disclose that he brought with him to California a paid informant he had used in Baltimore.
“Our office does not intend to rely on statements made or evidence collected by Mr. Ryckman,” the letter says.
Both of the reopened cases in Maryland involve Ryckman and Jenkins.
Jenkins was the leader of a squad that was regularly stopping people without probable cause, conducting illegal searches, lying in court paperwork and affidavits and stealing money from people they detained. Under Jenkins’ direction, cooperating officers testified, the officers targeted people for robberies using off-the-books GPS trackers and stole in some cases tens of thousands of dollars at a time. A co-conspirator also testified that Jenkins took drugs off the street and provided them to him to sell, with the pair splitting the proceeds.
Jenkins has admitted to being involved in a 2010 incident in which drugs were planted on a man, to a robbery in 2011, and to a string of crimes between 2014 through 2016.
Christopher Royster told The Sun in an interview last month that he was robbed after being arrested by Ryckman and Jenkins in 2013. Royster was arrested by the officers in September of that year, and his case was taken to federal court, where he entered a guilty plea and served five years in prison.
Royster said Jenkins and Ryckman stopped him in Southwest Baltimore, then took his keys and went to his apartment, a common tactic of Jenkins’ that is confirmed in Royster’s plea agreement. There, he said, he had $56,000 in a pillowcase that vanished and was not documented in court paperwork in his case. Royster says he was charged with having two guns, but admits he had additional guns in the home that weren’t accounted for.
Royster said he wants to have his conviction overturned to clear his record. He said he has not been contacted by the FBI or the U.S. Attorney’s Office.